The bloody and internal struggle within the GOP was blown wide open this week, with the news that Karl Rove has formed a new super-PAC, an offshoot of American Crossroads, that aims to weed out Republican primary candidates it views as unpalatable and unelectable.The news, first reported in The New York Times Sunday, has hardened battle lines between grassroots conservatives and the Republican Establishment, laying bare tensions that have been brewing since Rove led the GOP’s tar-and-feathering of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin during the 2012 election.
Rove’s new super-PAC, the Conservative Victory Project, was formed explicitly to avoid candidates like Akin, whose infamous “legitimate rape” comment sank a once-winnable Senate race and badly tarnished the Republican brand.
But conservatives see the new group as final proof that the GOP Establishment has abandoned — and wants to silence and destroy — the party’s rank-and-file. Powerful conservative groups — including FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth, and the Senate Conservatives Fund — reacted to Rove’s news with scorn and outrage.
Grassroots activists are now using the Conservative Victory Project as a rallying cry to unite the various factions of the Republican base.
“I’m elated to see that the wolf is willing to stop lying to Little Red Riding Hood,” Iowa talk radio host and conservative kingmaker Steve Deace told Business Insider. “The reality is that the only people that hate us more than Democrats are people running the Republican Party.
“In any dysfunctional relationship you reach a juncture where one party believes that they would be better off without the other,” Deace added. “They are reverse engineering the decisions they make from that premise.”
Christian radio giant Dick Bott laid out the argument further this week, in an email circulated among conservative Tea Party activists and evangelical leaders and obtained by Business Insider:
“The Karl Rove type, Republican establishment leaders have maneuvered around and picked our candidates far too long, and they’ve lost too many elections to allow it to continue.
Their pompous RINO leadership, such as what is demonstrated here, has only made Rove and the others very wealthy as they’ve gathered together millions of dollars while attempting to destroy some of the best candidates around. Pro-family conservative will now gather anew around those iron-clad values that we believe in and we will never, never, ever get rolled-over again.
Whether pro-life, pro-family, low taxes, small government movement voters are known as the Tea Party or by some other name (who cares?) Karl Rove’s initiative has set us FREE and will finally allow us to break down the false colour barriers, ethnic differences, etc., that have kept us apart, and will now allow people of similar faith, strong convictions and belief in America to work together as never before….
….Now that Karl Rove and his bunch have turned on the light and shown us the door, we are FREE and will only stand by those candidates that can be trusted from now on — the same candidates the Karl Rove establishment crowd threw under the bus during the fall election.
Rove and his organisations have pushed back against the criticism, saying that their goal is not to pick a fight with the Tea Party.
“Our goal isn’t to divide the party,” Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio told Business Insider. “Our party has lost a number of races in recent years, both by so-called Establishment candidates and Tea Party candidates, not because of bad messages but bad messengers [and] undisciplined candidates.”
While Republicans generally agree that the party has done a bad job of coming up with electable candidates, conservatives tend to resent the implication that the GOP’s Todd Akin problem was all their fault.
Moreover, some party leaders and activists quietly question whether Rove is the best guy to remedy the problem.
“Everyone realises that we, as a party, have got to be more welcoming — and that includes conservatives,” South Carolina Republican Party Chair Chad Connelly told Business Insider. “But I don’t think challenging conservatives is the best idea. I think it’s got to come from the people.”
“I’m just glad Karl Rove doesn’t speak for the RNC or work for the RNC,” Connelly added. “If he’s opposing conservatives, he sure doesn’t speak for me and South Carolina Republicans.”
The intense grassroots opposition to Rove sets the stage for an expensive and divisive battle between the two major factions of the GOP in 2014, when Republicans will have another opportunity to take back control of the Senate.
Although Collegio said that the Conservative Victory Project has not yet set its targets for 2014, Iowa is shaping up to be one of the first battlegrounds with the retirement of the state’s Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
Tea Party firebrand Rep. Steve King is the early favourite for the Republican nomination; in the NYT Sunday, however, Conservative Victory Project president Steven Law specifically singled out King as a possible target, noting King’s history of incendiary comments and flirtation with white nationalism.
But conservative activists in Iowa are concerned that the Conservative Victory Project’s plan will backfire, and end up fostering the very scenario the group aims to avoid.
“If they are worried that Steve King can’t win an election, targeting him is a sure-fire way to find out,” Deace said. “[Rove] is actually going to encourage the very atmosphere he’s intending to stop. If he wasn’t so concerned with his ego, he would realise that.”
Deace added that Rove’s stamp of approval is more likely to harm, rather than help, candidates in Republican primaries, which tend to be dominated by the party’s grassroots.
“If Karl Rove wanted to take over the process in the primary states, the worst way to do it was to sabotage the candidates,” Deace said. “He’s going to Scarlet Letter his own people.”
Deace’s criticism underscores the underlying flaws in the Conservative Victory Project strategy. Most significantly, the 2010 and 2012 elections proved that big-money media blitzes don’t necessarily win elections, particularly during the primaries. Rove’s American Crossroads, for example, got a mere 1% return on its $104 million investment in 2012 races.
That lesson is particularly true in Iowa, a state that is famous for its retail politics.
“I expect that when Iowans find out that a candidate is getting money from out-of-state, they’ll be upset,” Iowa Republican Party Chair A.J. Spiker told Business Insider. “All those big ads — that’s not how you win in Iowa. Grassroots campaigning is how you win here.”
“If there’s an effort to marginalize the candidate who is supported by the grassroots, I think there is going to be blowback,” he said.
The danger, Spiker added, is if attempts to meddle in the primaries backfire, and end up seriously damaging the party in the process.
“I believe that people will ultimately decide the candidate for themselves,” Spiker said. “But it hurts the party when groups jump in and try to influence the process…Ultimately, the only benefit is to the people raising and spending the money.”
Correction: An earlier version of this post named Rove’s group as the Conservative Victory Fund. It’s correct name is the Conservative Victory Project. We apologise for the error.
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